I was saddened to read the stories this week about Marks and Spencer banning balloons from their stores since one almost strangled a lamb. As my partner commented on hearing the tale, perhaps it was a cry for help from the lamb. Or not. But despite a fondness for our four-legged farmyard friends, I wasn’t sad for the lamb on this occasion (ok yes I was sad for the lamb too). But my main sadness was for the demise of the promotional balloon.

While I applaud M&S for reacting to criticism from the farming community, I’m struggling with elements of this tale. For one thing, balloons aren’t something I’ve generally come to associate with the store. Knickers yes. Socks? Suits, and even more recently some rather tasteful casual and formalwear in their special collections, yes. But balloons? Did I miss something? Also, what exactly was the lamb doing at the store? Shopping for for organic lettuce? Oh wait. I see from the coverage the balloon had “travelled 40 miles from a promotional event in Spalding, Lincolnshire.” Right.

In their statement M&S went on to say they had been gradually phasing out balloons from its promotional events anyway due to environmental considerations. Oh I see. Well, erm, no actually I don’t. How exactly did this tale make headline news? Hardly something that is going to affect the way M&S are trading on a daily basis. The only people it is likely to have an impact on is M&S’ PR team. If they are anything like the teams I have worked with, balloons have in the past offered a cheap but cheerful way to tart up an otherwise bare launch party. Hiring rooms/booths and adding catering is an expensive business, and unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a large budget, once you have paid for some posh nibbles and some wine, there really isn’t much left over for decoration. Branded balloons have been a stalwart, along with the cheery branded cake, and the corporate pop-up dragged across the country on some poor PR’s back.

So, the hunt for an ethical, environmentally-friendly replacement for the balloon begins. Maybe they can introduce a lamb-proof balloon variety? Or ensure they are tied down and don’t find themselves floating 40miles across farmland?

What a shame. No seriously. Promotional balloons, may you rest in peace. And the lamb too.

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